Wednesday, December 9, 2009


The UA organic garden has received numerous compliments on the effectiveness of its compost in creating and maintaining a healthy soil structure with good tilth and proper nutrients. A good compost is a great tool in sustainability - it suppresses plant disease, increases pest resistance, and contributes to the overall health of the soil and the crops. The basic elements that make up compost are food, air, and water. Carbon and nitrogen are key elements in composts, specifically because nitrogen gas is not useful to plants, and must be converted into a useable form. The amount of nitrogen in the soil and the bacteria population are directly related. That is, the more nitrogen that exists in the soil, the more bacteria there is to consume organic matter. When the bacteria die and/or create microbe manure, the nutrients are released and become available for plants.

Compost piles will eat almost any kind of organic matter (legumes, leaves, plant residues, hay, MANURE, etc). When deciding a location for a compost pile, keep in mind the amount of sunlight it receives – you don’t want it to dry out. Aeration is an important factor in compost as well. Too much aeration can lead to drying out before it decomposes, but on the other hand, poorly aerated compost gives off a foul odor and decreases the quality. The proper amount of water and air is also necessary in maintaining healthy compost. Moisture is required for microbial activity, and although microbial activity will continue without adequate oxygen levels, the end product is not ideal.

Autumn Greens

We gradually bid farewell to our summer garden over the course of the semester, uprooting the basil plants in August and the tomatoes in early October. The thai hot peppers lasted until November, but we had to uproot them to make room for our fall garden. (There were still TONS of peppers left on the vine, and after we took bundles home with us, we still had to throw some in the compost pile. I dried half of the ones I hoarded, and made pepper vinegar with the rest.) On our last visit to the garden, we had a little salad taste test of all the garden greens. We concocted a mixture of equal proportion broccoli leaves, mustard greens, kohlrabi, chives, and turnips, and had breakfast in the garden as we weeded. YUM!

Industrial agriculture has grown increasingly paradoxical, replacing natural processes with synthetic practices and treating farms as factories. Consequently, food has become a marketing entity rather than a necessity to sustain life. The American perception of food has evolved into a paradox as well, placing emphasis on health foods and fad diets, but ultimately harboring ignorance and apathy for what we put into our body. In response to the corruption of modern agriculture, there has been a recent emphasis on sustainability, organic farming, eating locally, and the Slow Food movement. Ironically, the effort to counter industrial agriculture emphasizes simplicity and entails the return to a more basic way of life.

I arrived at the University of Alabama in August, possessing a general awareness of the controversial issue from what I learned in a high school environmental science course, but not expecting to harbor a passion for sustainable agriculture. During the first week of school I stumbled upon an opportunity to visit the student organic garden (about a ten minute drive from campus), and desiring a new hobby, but mostly a way of meeting new people, I decided to go. Little did I know at the time, that seemingly insignificant one-hour visit to the garden would result in a four month independent study, a passion for food, involvement in the student organization Homegrown Alabama, inquiry into the philosophical and technical aspects of organic farming, and ultimately an increased awareness of my role in culture and perception of myself. During my first semester of college, the garden not only served as a place to meet new people, learn about plant growth and ecology, and eat fresh veggies, but also acted as a grounding force of simplicity. I expect to continue my involvement in the garden next semester, and plan to find work on an organic farm this summer. Needless to say, that one visit has inspired a passion and hobby, not to mention the assurance that no matter what lies in my financial future, I will have the security of being able to grow my own food.

With that said, I believe that more students should have the opportunity to extract personal growth from gardens. The arboretum, owned by the University, has a great atmosphere, but is inaccessible to most students who don’t have cars, don’t have the time to make the trip, or aren’t aware that it exists. Every year, college campuses around the country are establishing on-campus gardens to double as a classroom and a way in which to incorporate fresh, organic produce into dining halls and community farmers markets. This movement is an attempt to counter the previously mentioned agricultural practices, teach students the technical skills of gardening, create a sense of self-sufficiency, improve campus aesthetics, and act as a gathering place for the community. Also, evident in the growing population, climate change, and depletion of natural resources, there is a growing need to reevaluate our relationship with the natural world, and an on-campus garden would be paramount in teaching youth the value of sustainability.

Another, and perhaps more obvious benefit of instituting an on-campus garden is the food it would produce. Our perception of food is distorted; we have become so accustomed to seeing tomatoes on the grocery store shelves in December, that we have lost touch with the knowledge that tomatoes are in fact a summer crop. There are no seasons anymore. Industrial agriculture has de-emphasized the value of food, and growing up in a society where food was always accessible, I, the token American, evaluated the difference between frozen fish sticks and fresh broccoli based solely on taste. After reading Michael Pollan’s food narratives and becoming more aware of the philosophy of food, I am not only convinced that the hackneyed term “you are what you eat” is valid, but believe that food can be a lens into our culture and ourselves. Food is one of the most tangible connections to where we live, and knowing where our food comes from provides us with a sense of place in the community and in culture. A garden would allow for students to perhaps regain a trace of basic agricultural knowledge and reevaluate their relationship with food.

An on-campus garden would harbor a sense of self-sufficiency, and raise awareness about current environmental problems. The University argues that available land needs to be reserved for the potential of new classrooms in the future, and a garden would be secondary, but I view this as invalid and even contradictory reasoning. Evident in my own experience during the past four months, a garden is not just an aesthetically pleasing space, but a classroom in itself, where students would be able to make connections to their relationship to the natural world and gain insight into their own values and origins. It would be ultimately student-run, which would encourage leadership, something that exceeds what is taught in a classroom. It would encourage a more hands-on approach to learning, and transform the tangible skills into broader aspects of the students’ life. While money is needed for initial costs, the goal would be for the garden to eventually become self-sustaining and possibly turn a profit at local farmers markets. Ultimately, instituting a garden on campus would inspire creativity, community, and personal growth.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

In his “In Defense of Food”, Michael Pollen posits, “most of what we’re consuming today is no longer, strictly speaking, food at all” (7). American culture has an eating disorder. Not only have obesity and chronic heart become epidemics in the past decade, but we consciously compromise food for synthetic nutrients, health for mass distribution, land for mass production, and community for a quick bite that often leaves us feeling unsatisfied. Worst of all, most of us cannot talk about where our food comes from. But as a nation struggling with eating, a movement is on the rise. Consumers want chemical-free produce. They want to know where their food was produced and if other were exploited in the process. They want real, ethical, healthy food. And as a University on the forefront of education and a beacon for the common good, we have an inherent responsibility to address these concerns in the context of the classroom. We should be teaching more students about what they are eating, raising awareness about devastating industrial agricultural practices, and asking critical environmental and ethical questions about food production. While we have taken some necessary steps in this direction, bringing an organic garden on campus is essential to meeting these demands and making the University a global leader in agricultural sustainability.

An increasingly popular attitude of consumers in response to the rising anxiety towards mass food production and chemical treatment is “Eat Local. Eat Organic”. As a result, many Universities have started organic gardens to provide a classroom that creates a direct relationship between students and farming, including the University of New Hampshire, Harvard, Stony Brook University, Furman University, and the University of Florida. Not only do students learn about and participate in agricultural practices, but some of these colleges, such as Furman, incorporate the food into campus dining halls, thereby allowing students to experience the beauty of eating locally grown, organic food. Additionally, professors use these gardens as a research sites. According to the Furman’s organic garden mission statement, “People are hungry for not just for fresh, healthy and fair food, but for knowledge and experience of participating in solutions.”

Students and faculty at our University hunger for this knowledge, experience, and available organic food as well. In the fall of 2008, several students established the UA Organic Community Garden Initiative to establish such a garden on campus with the desire to bring more local food into the dining halls and educate students about organic agriculture. Though they obtained support from multiple campus facets and even obtained funding for a water connection, the University denied the project because of aesthetic and managerial concerns. Yet, hope and passion for the initiative remained. Students subsequently started an on-campus garden at the University’s arboretum as a pilot project and compromise. Having been very involved in this effort for the past year, I have witnessed over fifty students work in the garden and discover the inherent joy that resides in harvesting food that one has planted and nurtured. I have also seen how this experiential learning inspires and engages students. Moreover, I have realized within this last semester that this setup can only be a temporary solution to a dire campus need and am forced to ask: If other Universities have successfully established gardens on their campuses, gardens that provide food for the campus, educational spaces, and academic opportunities, why can’t we overcome our issues and take advantage of such a valuable and easy endeavor?

This past fall I performed an independent study on organic gardening to fulfill a New College requirement. While I had had experience working on the garden, I did not fully comprehend the implications of the initiative until I started applying classroom concepts to our actions at the student garden. One of these concepts is soil health. As all farmers and gardeners know, soil health is necessary for abundant crop production. However, what many do not recognize is that creating and maintaining a good soil is a holistic process, one that considers how texture, structure, richness of certain nutrients, and presence of beneficial microorganisms collectively influence the soil. When fertilizers and pesticides are applied, two practices that are popular in industrial agriculture, they oftentimes kill the beneficial microorganisms that decompose organic material into the nutrients that feed plants, and the subsequent deficiency of these microorganisms can last for years in affected soils. This is why organic and holistically-minded methods such as crop rotation are much better solutions for agricultural problems. Rather than trying to identify and fix a single issue, their consequences acknowledge the natural balances that are crucial to food production and provide long-term solutions. According to author Wendell Berry, “A good solution improves the balances, symmetries, or harmonies within a pattern –it is a qualitative solution – rather than enlarging or complicating some part of a pattern at the expense or in neglect of the rest.” (272). Hence, we need to have a garden on campus so that students can apply these solutions, witness the results, and understand the value of approaching any issue from a holistic perspective.

Another reason that the University needs to allow the garden to greet campus soil is because of the arboretum’s distance campus. While only fifteen minutes away, having one or two students drive out there daily to perform necessary maintenance is unsustainable, and biking to the arboretum is practically infeasible–especially on days when students must return to campus and go to class. Many students voiced concern this semester about not having the time to travel to and from the arboretum as a reason for not fully committing to the project. Having the garden at the arboretum also creates difficulties for newcomers, who are usually unfamiliar with the arboretum and do not feel comfortable with going out there alone. If the University is genuinely passionate about using the garden as a teaching tool and educating the most students possible about agricultural issues, it will have to move the garden on campus.

When I started working on the garden initiative, I knew little about industrial agriculture and organic farming, and my main concern was creating another beautiful place of leisure on campus. I continue to believe that having an on-campus garden will make great aesthetic and social contributions to the University. But my work on the student garden and my classroom learning have taught me priceless lessons about agricultural practices, such as how the implementation of organic methods is crucial to the health of our environment and the survival of our species. Our University is currently behind in becoming a true environmental steward. This can and will change, though, when we fully recognize the benefits of projects like an on-campus garden and commit our time, energy, and resources in order to realize such initiatives. And if we are as concerned about being leaders of change and social responsibility as we advertise, then we must turn our promises into actions.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thoughts for the Spring

Students visited the garden today to wrap up their project for the semester. Since every crop is ready for harvesting except for the brocolli, they uprooted some of the dead plants (sunflowers, winter squash, and pumpkins) and took them to the compost pile nearby. They also added onto the rabbit fence and began discussing how to redesign the beds for next semester. The new plan will not only consider how to make garden upkeep easier but will help improve the soil, since students have decided to turn the beds. Because it is too late to plant a cover crop in all of the current beds, compost will be placed on the tops of each and straw will cover the compost so that it will be less vulnerable to erosion.

Now that we're entering an "off season", what can you be doing to prepare for the next growing season? Start a compost pile! Compost is essential to organic gardening because it adds nutrients to the soil, creates better tilth, and feeds the microorganisms that are essential to plant survival. Here are some instructions for starting your own pile:

1. Think Carbon and Nitrogen. You want a pile that includes natural sources of both. Green garden debris contains high amounts of Nitrogen and brown Carbon.

2. You are looking for the best balance of both elements. Many argue what that balance is and how to achieve it. When looking for the "best" recipe, consider how much time you have before you'll need to be using your compost.

3. Toss in some soil or compost to help jumpstart your pile.

4. Moniture moisture levels. You don't want your pile to be too wet or too dry. It should be damp , but when you squeeze it, water should not drip out. If it's too dry, add water to help achieve this dampness.

5. Turn your pile in order to move material from the outside in and vice versa. If the temperature of the middle of the pile reaches 160 F, you need to turn your pile. Once the pile stops heating up after turning, you'll be done!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

With the semester winding down and students eager to go home for the break, Students for Sustainability is discussing what it will do with the garden for the next several months. Currently, one of our officers is studying crop rotation and trying to identify what would be best to plant in the spring. Crop rotation basically means figuring out what to plant in which beds based on what plant came before it, since plant families have different influences on the soil. For example, some crops take up large amounts of Nitrogen from the soil during their life cycles. Instead of using synthetic chemical Nitrogen (found in fertilizers), which can be hazardous to soil structure and not even necessarily be in a form for plant uptake, the gardener should plant something that naturally puts Nitrogen back into the soil in a form that other plant can easily uptake -this specific process is known as Nitrogen fixation, and legumes are the plant family that perform it. Taking advantage of this natural process not only naturally restores vital nutrients to the soil, but helps create better tilth -which is more resistant to soil erosion, fights off plant disease cycles, and keeps pest problems at bay.

Students are also considering planting a live mulch for the spring and summer garden. As mentioned in a previous blog, mulch is laid down in between crops and rows to suppress weeds, prevent soil erosion, retain moisture, and maintain temperature. While some typical mulches are plastic, newspaper, straw, and grass clippings, living mulch is a plant that is interspersed between crops. Crimson clover is one example of a living mulch and can be used with a crop like corn, since corn is taller than the mulch. Advantages of living mulches include those of regular mulches, but they can also encourage beneficial insects to live near the crops and deter soil splashing, which occurs when rain hits the soil and causes it to splash on the plant. If the soil is carrying a disease, the splashing is very dangerous to the plant's vitality.

Nature provides us with the tools to build and maintain a healthy garden that can last for years if we do our research and understand plant/ soil relationships holistically. Trying to develop synthetic methods for gardening ignores these relationships and assumes that reducing a garden to individual problems will give achive the "ultimate" goal: large crop production. However, providing solutions to for one problem does not recognize how that solution will affect this large and clearly very intricate natural system, and though one season of fertilizing may bring big yields, the gardener will have more problems to deal with in the future and find his goal much more difficult (and expensive) to achieve. When we choose to use organic methods, we are not only taking advantage of what the Earth has provided us, but we are investing in future years of fertile, rich soil, good tilth, abundant biodiversity, and ultimately, healthy crops.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Delight

On Wednesday, November 24, I got the chance to head out to the arboretum before leaving town for Thanksgiving festivities. When I arrived, I realized that the lettuce, mixed greens, mustard greens, chives, and kolrabi were all ready for harvesting, so I grabbed some and hit the road. My family was excited to see what I had brought home. The lettuce and mixed greens were thrown together to make a luscious salad for our big Thanksgiving dinner, and we added chives to the traditional mashed potato dish for flavoring. My family couldn't believe how good the food looked, and more importantly , how great everything tasted. As we finished up our big meal of the night, my mom told me that we will have to have our own garden next spring and summer.

When someone asks me why I believe we should try to eat local and organic, I usually start spewing off tons of reasons, such as we don't usually know where out food comes from, what fertilizers and pesticides were used, whether or not the seeds planted were genetically modified, and if people were exploited during the growing process. What I often forget, though , is to talk about the most important potential consequence of eating local and organic: the bonds it creates between people. Unlike past Thanksgivings, I felt that I was more connected to the food because I had helped grow it, and my family's appreciation of that made us all more aware of what we were eating and how we were all able to enjoy it together. I can't wait to have a garden with my family next summer.

If you, too, want to start your own garden for the spring/ summer, go ahead and start preparing now. Here's a little bit about soil composition to help you out:

Figure out your soil composition: Is it mostly sand, silt, or clay? Ideally, you will have a balance mixture of three, known as loam. Loam is best because it retains moisture and nutrients but doesn’t stay soggy.

Do you have worms?
The presence of worms indicates that your soil is very healthy and nutritious.

Make sure you have an adequate water supply: The student organic garden uses a drip irrigation system, which I've read is best because it decreases erosion and mineral loss.

What is the PH?
The degree to which a soil is acidic or basic plays an essential role in garden production. This will be tested in the soil test. Lime is usually added if the soil is too acidic.

Perform a soil test
: Some of the elements that a test looks at are Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium. It will tell you the levels of each and what organic material you need to add to make your soil more fertile.

Don't forget compost: "Compost is a soil conditioner, fertilizer, and mulch all wrapped into one". It will help with your soil's water retention and drainage issues and add organic matter to your garden.

Friday, November 27, 2009

2009 Food Summit

November 12-14 was the 2009 Alabama Food Summit in Birmingham. About eight New College students made the drive to meet organic farmers from all over the south and learn about the technical and philosophical aspects of sustainable agriculture as well as the marketing side of having a farm. We were able to make relationships with the farmers and learn from their stories of failure and success.

Some of the workshops included:

  • Cover crops
  • Health and nutrition
  • Food advocacy
  • Cooperative marketing
  • Future of seeds
  • Biodynamics
  • Permaculture

One of the farmers that stood out the most was Jeff Poppen from Red Boiling Springs, TN. Living up to his title as the “barefoot farmer,” Jeff rocked a long, dreaded beard and possessed an aura of simplicity. His appreciation for the Earth was contagious as he delved into the advantages of biodynamic farming and shared personal stories of life on his farm. He was extremely generous with his farming tips, sharing compost recipes and handing out the organic sweet potatoes from his farm. Jeff talked about the benefits of urban gardens, which are essentially a product of a nearby “mother” farm.

He gave us an apparently magical fertilizer recipe:

  • 25 gallons of cow manure
  • 2000 grams of egg shells
  • 1000 grams of basalt
  • mix with shovel for 1 hour (Jeff has “stirring” parties with his friends), and put in a wooden, bottomless barrel buried in the ground.
  • One cup of this stuff mixed with 3 gallons of water (stir for 20 minutes) is enough for one acre of land, sprinkled during the evening as the dew falls.

In true Jeff fashion, he wanted to distribute the awesomeness of this fertilizer, so I took on the task of getting my hands dirty and bagging it for everyone.

Jeff also went on a tangent about the moon cycle and it's effect on crops. He swears that the moon can be used a device in determining the best time to plant, weed, and harvest crops.

Overall, the Food Summit was a success, and students left with a packet of information, a more extensive knowledge about farming, and the knowledge that we will always have a welcoming home in Boiling Springs, TN with Jeff the barefoot farmer.

Pesky Pests

Pests are problematic, but it seems contradictory to douse plants with poisonous substances – because ultimately, our goal is to eat them. If the chemicals kill pests, what are the long-term health effects on us? Ideally, one should manage pests before they even arrive in the garden. That is, use sustainable techniques like crop rotation, soil structure, and pH management in order to increase a crop's resistance to pests.

Fire ants have been a concern in the garden recently, but we don't want use harsh pesticides to control them. We are trying to find a sustainable method to get rid of the ants, so we applied cornstarch to the beds, which, according to the ever-dependable internet, expands in their bodies and kills them. Apparently, this is a myth. We tried it, only to learn that the cornstarch was ineffective.

(above) Beth applying cornstarch to the oregano

Also, the copious amounts of rain we've had in the past month hasn't really been ideal for the plants, but it did at least wipe out a giant ant bed that was once plopped in the middle of the chives.

The use of pesticides reflects our cultural mindset: we prefer quick, easy solutions and don't look too far into the future to see the consequences of our actions. Sustainable pest control is about long-term solutions that take into consideration all of the factors. Most of the time, the best solution is to kill the pests, but to build an immunity in the crops with sustainable methods like crop rotation and fostering healthy soil.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Eat 'em up!

On Thursday, November 12, Students for Sustainability took some of their harvest to the NEW 100 Intro to Interdisciplinary Studies class. The class had been studying Barbara Kingsolver's novel Animal, Vegetable, Miracle -a read that definitely belongs at the top of your list, and members of the student group realized how relevant bringing fresh greens from the student garden would be to classroom discussion. Consequently, a couple of students drove out to the arboretum before class and harvested the two delicious foods that are ready for eatin': mustard greens and chives.

Not sure how many of you have enjoyed mustard greens before, but the student group's are extra spicy. So, not necessarily the ideal way to introduce people to the beauty of eating local and organic food. Even the classmates that expressed a love for spicy foods had a look of surprise and coughed a little when they bit in. Despite the reactions, the class generally seemed intrigued by the garden project (and enjoyed the chives, where are much more tame for the pallette) , and Students for Sustainability gained about six more student volunteers for the spring garden!

In other news, the very generous Dr. Joe Brown, who teaches organic farming in New College and owns his own farm, donated a hundred strawberry plants to the student group. Students gladly added the strawberry plants to back two garden beds, where just recently they had uprooted the withering peppering plants and spread new compost. They look forward to April, when the strawberry fruit will hopefully appear. It will certainly be motivation to get the rest of the spring garden in motion!

And last, but certainly far from least, group leaders are working with faculty to design an independent study that will involve experiential learning through the student organic garden. If you're interested, please join the facebook group and/or email for more details. And please, please, please, come eat some mustard greens and chives. We have plenty for everyone!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunny Skies

Finally, a week free from rain! Students took advantage of the beautiful weather and visited the arboretum almost everyday last week.Thanks to the arboretum staff, students used straw from the arboretum's Halloween event to mulch all of the beds. Mulching will really help the garden by keeping weeds down -weeds are less exposed to sunlight -and help moderate soil temperatures so the plants aren't as stressed by drastic day to night changes. Students also uprooted old plants and prepared empty beds for strawberry plants. They also noticed that some of the pumpkin plants are turning gray and plan to investigate what the odd coloration is.

Who wants a mustard green? Despite the heavy rain, these guys are thriving. Students are thinking about different ways to make sure that the excess is no wasted. One of these options includes taking some of the produce to freshman classes so that they can get a glimpse of what
participating in an organic garden will give them.

The pepper plants have been very good to the student group throughout the spring and summer, but it's time to go. They'll be back next spring.

Lizzie Beale helps uproot the last of the pepper plants.

If you look closely, you can see the straw covering the beds. The mulch will really help with garden maintenance.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween at the arboretum

The rain is keeping us out of the garden, but I'd like to tell you about this upcoming event for Saturday, October 31 at the arboretum.

Tuscaloosa's own "Ultra-Runner", Nick Sella, will run 50 miles to support the wonderful UA Arboretum.

Come and join the festivities - FUN for EVERYONE!!!
-Children's Activities from 4 - 6 pm
-Trick or Treat!
-Children's Costume Contest @ 5 pm
-Adult's Activities from 6 - 10 pm
- Costume Contest @ 7 pm

Costume Contest Categories:
1. Best Botanical (without using Kudzu!)
2. Best costume using white toilet paper
3. Best Costume using recycled materials

Admission: $10/person*, Children under 12 get in FREE.
*Free to members of the Friends of the Arboretum, you can sign up for membership at the event!
-Recieve a T-Shirt with a $50 Donation to the UA Arboretum
-Make a Pledge for every mile that Nick runs! All Funds Raised go directly to the Arboretum! (no amount is too big or too small)

Please check it out! Hopefully, the rain will stay away. Don't forget your costume!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Alabama DIRT camp ~ Summer 09

Hola, friends! This past summer Stephen Spikes, Hunter Rayfield and I put together a week-long camp (with the help of Mary Jo and Kristina Hopkins-Jones) for girls aged 12-15. This was part of the summer compost project that Stephen and Hunter primarily worked on, while I focused on developing the community outreach portion.
If you haven't heard about the compost project at the Arboretum, then let me tell you about it. Bama Dining has worked incredibly hard at becoming a "greener" establishment; with the help of Ms. Hopkins-Jones, Bama Dining began donating their pre-consumer food waste & coffee grounds to the Arboretum for composting. In addition to leaf litter and constant upkeep, the result is several tons of beautiful compost out on the old golf course parking lot. The project has been an incredible success and hopefully will be permanently ongoing!
If I ever figure out how to post photos on this blog, I will post (unfortunately very old) pictures from the camp and describe what we did each day. It was an exceedingly rewarding experience for all parties involved, and in my case, I reconsidered the type of impact I wish to make in the world. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Another Week of Rain

Once again, we had a long week of rain that kept students from their daily garden visits. Fortunately, I managed to take a solo trip out to the arboretum at 8 am on Thursday, an hour before Tuscaloosans found themsevles donning their rain gear for the fourth time that week.
The results: Most of what we planted is growing, and there doesn't appear to be any signs of disease or fungus on anything. The fire ants looks like they have taken a toll, which is something to be pleased with despite the dismal weather. And, as to be expected, weeds are springing up everywhere.

Students for Sustainability continues to be active even though students can't be out in the garden as much as they would like. Instead, the student group is meeting every other Wednesday at 8 pm (the next will be the 28th) to discuss plans for expansion, what to do for the garden now, and recruitment. We are currently focusing on the ant problem, and though we used organic mint spray last year, we will try cornmeal this year since we can obtain it quicker and it's cheaper. I'll make sure to write later about how effective the cornmeal is. The student group also continues to go out to the garden every Sunday at 1 pm, when weather allows. Weeding and making sure that nothing has gone awry are our top goals when we visit the garden. If you don't know anything about gardening, please don't be afraid to come! Each Sunday we talk to students about gardening basics so they can listen, learn, and apply the knowledge immediately. We usually go out for lunch afterwards, too, which is always a nice way to really meet everyone.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Bees, Bees, BEES!!

Yesterday (October 1), Students for Sustainability took a field trip out to Bill Hewett's bee keeping farm. Bill has approximately 75 hives and makes pure honey...yum! Bill was generous enough to not only let students see his hang-out, but taught them the in's and out's of bee keeping and even let them sample some! Needless to say, most left with at least a jar of his pure honey in hand. Below are pictures of Bill and students.

Meet Bill Hewett, Beekeeping expert.

Bill stands amongst the bees, pointing at them as they work away. Students meet the honey-producers face to face. I was too scared to get close.

Inside his honey extracting factory, students look at honeycomb remains as Bill explains the process.

Did I mention that he had delicious treats for us?

Above, Bill has has some honeycomb for us to try. Chelsea Smith, Students for Sustainability V.P. , enjoys a piece along with the rest of the group. I quickly realized after trying some that you're supposed to suck the honey out of the comb, not eat the entire thing.

Now, students hear a summary of how honey is extracted from wooden frames that are in the beehives.

Bees store their honey in these frames
. Beekeepers then take these frames out of the hive
to extract the honey.

This is an uncapping knife. It slices off the cappings from the honeycomb.

Next, Bill takes the sheets and puts them in the honey extractor

And now, we have pure honey!

Bill explains the difference between raw
and pure honey as students watch honey slowly
pour out from the extractor. Pure honey
is put through a filter so that honeycomb
chunks and whatever else the bees put in the wooden frames is left out of the final product.

To the left, Nicole Ortega, Students for Sustainability President, pours warm honey from the extractor into a jar to take home. Most students purchased some honey.

Students thanked Bill for letting them check out his place. If you missed this trip, don't worry. I'm sure we'll visit again in the spring. Keep checking the facebook group and watching for messages about other fun field trips!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Slash Pine Press and Creative Campus Present: "Into the Woods" at the UA Arboretum

Due to the all of the rain this past week, students found few opportune times to visit or really work in the garden. Though they were finally able to go out yesterday -Thursday, September 23- their actions were limited to weeding and looking at the damage done by the rain. The results: fallen over tomato plants, bursted, rotten tomatoes (which occurs because of excess water), and an abundance of weeds. However, the baby pants are getting bigger and look like they've enjoyed all of the water.

No pictures today, folks. Instead, I wanted to talk about the upcoming Into the Woods event, a day of hiking and poetry, that will be hosted on October 3rd at the UA arboretum.

Imagine hiking with others in silence when suddenly, someone stops you. A person then appears in front of the group and begins reading poetry. When she is done, the group turns and continues to walk quietly, continuing to stop and listen to readers until they reach the end of the trail and enjoy delicious refreshments. This is what "Into the Woods" will be like - a relaxing, reflective, and unique spiritual experience that allows one to experience art, human creation, in the presence of the natural environment.

You can check out the official press release below:

Slash Pine Press and Creative Campus To Present "Into the Woods"

An Interactive Combination of Hiking, Poetry and Prose

Tuscaloosa, AL-September 22, 2009- Slash Pine Press, in collaboration with UA Creative Campus, will present "Into the Woods" Saturday, October 3rd from 9:30AM-12:00PM at University of Alabama Arboretum and cross country trails.

The traditional poetry reading, which typically consists of poets reading to an indoor room of a sitting audience followed by light conversation over a glass of champagne afterward, takes on a new wardrobe. Bug spray & trailheads merge together to lure young and old into the woods and appreciate a morning of hiking and contemporary writing.

The event will consist of four hiking groups made up of 15-20 participants. These groups will start on the 3.5 to 4 mile trail in fifteen minute intervals. Each tour group will listen to the work of two different writers.

As the participants walk through the arboretum, readers positioned along the trail will emerge from specific locations to recite a portion of a writer's work. After the completion of a section of story or poem, the group will continue in mostly silence until the next reader is reached.

The featured writer of each hike will be the final reader who will finish reading his or her piece to the group. The featured writers include: Patti White & Steve Kowalski at 9:45 AM, Wendy Rawlings & Juan Reyes at 10 AM, Nathan Parker & BJ Hollars at 10:15 AM, and Amy Monticello & Ryan Browne at 10:30 AM.

Those interested in attending are required to reserve a place on the tour by emailing They should indicate which tour group they are interested in joining. Space is limited to eighty participants to protect against trail erosion and provide a meditative experience for all those involved.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Our garden is full of peppers! These are Thai Hot Peppers, and are good as a spice in dishes, but don't eat them on their own! (I speak from experience)

Lizzie and Beth enjoy the delights of organically grown peppers.
The Ornamental Peppers are smaller and less abundant than the Thai Hots.

There's a huge fire ant bed in the oregano! We're working on getting some organic pest control in order to sustainably manage the ant problem in the garden. And finally, ahhhh a butterfly.

rain, rain, go away

It's been raining for almost a week straight, and the consequences are evident. The tomato plants received the most damage: one whole plant topped over, while all of the ripe tomatoes burst from an abundance of water.

Some survived, however, but we may have to pick them early if the warm weather doesn't continue. Mmmm... fried green tomatoes!

Today we mostly picked the dead leaves off the tomato plants and weeded. Here's a pile of dead leaves that we tossed in the compost pile (which will eventually be added back to the soil)

There was a sunflower here to greet us after the rain!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Working Away

Unfortunately, we have had a very rainy week here in Tuscaloosa, causing students to spend less time in the garden since wet soil has a higher potential for compaction. However, students continued to do minimal weeding and saw problems that they will start trying to solve once the soil is drier, such as the fire ants that have made their homes in the garden beds.

Students have recently discovered fire ants in the beds. They will have to order an organic spray to rid the garden of the ants.

Students continue to monitor the tomatoes.

Babies Everywhere! Students are excited to see little plants sprouting up after planting two weeks ago.

Please mark your calendars for October 3rd! The Slash Pine Press will be presenting "Into the Woods Hike & Experiments in Reading " at the arboretum and UA Golf Course. This is gauranteed to be a unique experience that connects poetry with the natural environment. You don't want to miss out! If you are interested, arrive at the golf course by 930 am.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Another Day at the Garden

This is a shot of the pretty fence that the arboretum staff generously built for the student garden. Mary Joe, Kenny, and Eady, Students for Sustainability can't thank you enough for offering your garden knowledge, abundant space, constant support, and most importantly, your love! If those reading haven't been out to the arboretum, you should definitely take an hour or two to go visit. It's a great space cared for by great people.

Above, UA student and Students for Sustainability member Eric VonNostrand helps weed the garden.

Having just learned about taking care of tomato plants, Lizzie Beale detaches suckers to help the plant conserve its energy.

That's all for now. If you'd like to get involved in the garden project or join Students for Sustainability, you can email and/or look for our facebook group, UA Organic Community Garden. Although we'll just be doing little gardening tasks for the next month or two, we greatly appreciate any help and want you to come out to the arboretum with us! Transportation generally isn't a problem, either. We like to arrange garden duty times so that multiple students can travel together and work side by side (we like cutting down our carbon emissions, too!). We'll continue to blog here about upcoming garden events, the arboretum, and student workshops.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

More Pictures from Our New Beginning

Almost everything is planted for the fall. Students spent this weekend helping mulch the garden with pineneedles from the arboretum and recyled newspaper from the University library. Now that everything is set in motion, Students for Sustainability will be establishing a daily schedule for garden managment where at least one student will be going out to the garden everyday. The purpose of this schedule is multifaceted - while students police the garden for unwanted visitors (bugs, weeds, deer, etc), they will also have a chance to watch their creation come to fruition. Of course, the best and most delicious part of the gardening process is eating the food you've grown.

Students play in the children's garden nearby. One, Lizzy Beale, becomes part of a human sun dial.

Thanks to the arboretum staff, Students for Sustainability re-used this bamboo to support the tomato plants during the summer. The student group will continue to recycle them.

The peppers are staying around a little bit
longer. These are the spiciest of all that were planted in the summer.

These mushrooms were hiding by the front gate. Aren't they beautiful?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Starting Seeds for Fall, Yay!

New babies a'comin' in the garden

Silently sleeping seeds soak in Alabama's soil. Soon, bird song and sun shine shall stir surprises within... so shoots and roots will slip and slither simultaneously deep towards earth's heart-center, and high by sky's face.

UA Students and alumni gathered this morning in the organic garden to clear the beds and rows of all the plants that are in the wrong place at the wrong time (also known as weeds).

We left the oregano, tomatoes, chives, and peppers to jive, but introduced the garden to broccoli, mustard green, collard, chard, rainbow chard, turnip, radish, onion, okra, kohlrabi, and pumpkin.

photo taken march 2009. Beth Hataway holding seeds for the Spring community garden at the Arboretum

All of the newcomers (except the pumpkins) are starting from seed today. Kids planted pumpkins while participating in a weekend children's garden workshop at the arboretum. The pumpkins in the children's garden had to be thinned, so we gladly transplanted some of the seedlings into the Community Organic Garden.

The Fall batch of tomatoes are getting bigger, but some have rough/dry marks on them; student volunteers are researching possible causes of the observed symptoms and will report their findings.

photo taken summer 2009, green tomato

This weekend, we'll need to work together to:
-integrate some compost into the soil
-plant winter squash
-Collect recycled newspaper from the UA libraries for mulching
-Collect pine straw from the arboretum for mulching
-mulch the garden rows and beds

photo taken Spring 2009, mulching with recycled newspaper from the University of Alabama libraries

photo taken Spring 2009, rows are mulched over with pine-straw and drip irrigation system is installed. carrots grow in the foreground with melons and mustard greens in the background


The pumpkin patch will be wonderfully festive come the Half-Hundred Celebration on Halloween, when Ultra Runner Nick Sella will run 50 miles and dedicate all pledges to the Friends of the Arboretum! All are invited to partake in this FUN-draising celebration at the arboretum on October 31st. Dress up in wild costume to entertain kids as they trick-or-treat!

Now is the time to dig in! To find out more about how you can contribute to the UA Community Organic Garden, email us with your questions and a tentative schedule of hours/week you are available! See you in the garden ~

Students for Sustainability